Last weekend we made a little trip to the big city. Our weekend trips usually happen three or four times a year, and usually revolve around Josh’s cyclocross races, or a band we want to see, or sometimes just an irresistible hotel deal. This New York trip was sparked when Magpie Salute (former members of the Black Crowes, and friends) announced a show at the Gramercy Theatre. It was a must-see for Josh, who has been a Black Crowes fan since forever, and I’m a more-than-willing partner-in-crime for these shows. A Travelzoo deal on a hotel in the Financial District sealed the deal.
It was a fun weekend of train and subway excursions, tons of walking, a trip to the Museum of Modern Art, a rendezvous with the NYC Women’s March on Fifth Avenue (our trip started on Trump’s Inauguration Day), and sightseeing at the 9/11 Memorial, the Oculus, Trinity Church, SoHo, Mid-town, Columbus Circle, the Financial District, and Battery Park. Oh, and Magpie Salute was amazing—they sounded great.
Before I go away anywhere, I scout out vegan restaurants. But on this getaway, in spite of my pre-trip efforts, the food highlights were few and far between. We arrived in the city Friday afternoon, figuring we’d have time for dinner near the Gramercy Theatre before the show. I had carefully planned ahead and found a restaurant near the theatre—V Spot, which was billed as vegan Latin comfort food. After a long walk from the subway in the rain, we arrived at the address and found a brand new comedy club where the restaurant was supposed to be. Some fruitless Googling and more walking in the rain landed us at Chipotle and, with more than a little disappointment, we filed that meal in the best-laid-plans drawer. (BTW, I do like Chipotle—always a decent vegan option—but I admit I was hoping for something with a little more character in NYC.)
Saturday we managed to find a vegan lunch spot—Blossom—near the Museum of Modern Art, where we spent a good part of the day. But our suburban roots were definitely showing when we Google-mapped it and circled the same block again and again. I kept looking at my phone, saying, “I don’t understand. It’s supposed to be right here.” Finally, I called and found out it was, in fact, right there. It was just underground. Right. So we walked our not-so-savvy selves down the subway station stairs to a busy underground mall. It was good fast food, worth the trouble to find. I had a yummy rosemary chick’n sandwich with avocado and vegan pesto. Josh had a barbecue jackfruit sandwich (because if there’s barbecue anything on the menu, that’s what he’s having). We ate in the middle of the mall at the edge of an adopt-a-dog event. There’s no better lunch entertainment than puppies.
On Saturday night we had dinner at Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s Modern Love—Brooklyn—“swanky vegan comfort food.” It was an easy walk from the subway and when we arrived for our 9 p.m. reservation, it was bustling and friendly, casual but polished—in a vegan, hipster sort of way. Everything on the menu sounded great. I chose house-made gnocchi with pesto and vegan sausage. Josh chose barbecue tempeh (see!) with corn pudding, black-eyed peas, and collards. The beer list was short and sweet—we enjoyed the St. Feullien saison. Dessert was a classic brownie sundae. The meals were creative and delicious.
We were in SoHo Sunday morning and probably could have found a good vegan brunch or lunch. But we really wanted to spend our time there walking around, not sitting in a restaurant. So we ended up getting a quick bite at Fresh & Co., back near our hotel in the Financial District, before we caught the train home. The menu sounded promising—salads, bowls and wraps with grains, tofu, jackfruit, beans and lots of veggie toppings—but the food was disappointing—a not-so-fresh salad and a flavorless grain bowl. Fresh & Co. seemed like it was trying to be a trendy fast-casual restaurant, but the feel was more food-court-meets-7-Eleven.
Part of me felt like in New York City there was no excuse for not finding good food—good vegan food even. But New York is really big. Yes, really. And although we used all the restaurant-finding tools we could think of—Yelp, Happy Cow, Google, Google Maps—none of them worked perfectly. They all helped for sure, but none were perfect and we came up empty-handed more often than not on this trip. And breakfasts? We didn’t even try. We ate next to the hotel at Au Bon Pain and Starbucks, which both met the minimum criteria of soy or almond milk for our coffee.
My take-away from this trip is that sometimes—vegan or not—your trip can revolve around eating well, and sometimes your trip revolves around other things and you eat for sustenance. Finding something good to eat on the road is more of a challenge for us vegans than for our omnivorous friends. But there’s (almost) always something that fits the minimum vegan criteria, even if it doesn’t fit all (or any) other food goals—delicious, nutritious, organic, creative, local, served in style, etc. Sometimes the thing to do is just give up the struggle—and enjoy the trip.